One of the first things people do when they suspect that their partner is cheating is they go online and enter "my spouse is cheating." This calls up all sorts of advice. In fact, some people make a healthy income just publishing more or less personal opinions about cheating. Not all of it is helpful and some of it can be completely wrong for your situation.
You will find a wide range of advice online about cheating and how to recover from infidelity. Some of it may be very interesting and helpful. At the very minimum it is eye-opening. However, there is a large portion of online advice about cheating, especially in dating or marriage forums, that is plainly emotionally-fueled rants. These pivot upon the author's highly personal experience instead of the complexities involved in the psychology of affairs.
I have come to believe, after practicing with hundreds of couples over the past ten years, that the steps taken after the discovery of cheating are just as consequential to the outcome of your relationship as the steps your partner took by cheating. Before you reach for the battle ax it is critical to get good advice about how to deal with cheating in your relationship.
I did some fact-finding about cheating and gleaned what I thought were some of the top myths and facts about infidelity, from a course for therapists offered by Dr. Ofer Zur, titled Infidelity & Affairs: Facts, Myths and What Works.
- An affair inevitably destroys the marriage
- An affair always means there are serious problems in the marriage
- Telling all the details of the affair to the betrayed spouse will help heal the marriage
- Affairs should always be disclosed to the un-involved partner (regardless of the potential for domestic violence or even murder when such disclosure take place)
- People generally seek in an affair what they do not get at home from their spouse.
- Internet sex and Internet infidelity are not considered extramarital affairs.
Following are some basics facts about cheating and infidelity that often contradict and debunk the above myths:
- Most couples survive the affair rather than end up in divorce.
- Many couples, in fact, come out of the cheating crises stronger and more committed
- Cheating is a choice. No one and no circumstances "force" anyone to be unfaithful.
- The effect of cheating can be negative, neutral or positive.
- Many individuals who start cheating have not been able to go beyond the romantic (unrealistic and often short term) ideal or falling-in-love phase that often characterizes the first phase of romantic relationships.
- When someone starts cheating, it doesn't necessarily mean he or she isn't "getting enough" at home. Many researchers have found out that one can feel a strong attachment to the spouse and still be madly attracted to and romantically in love with someone else.
- Contrary to one commonly held view, many people who report being in happy marriages commit adultery. Shirley Glass's ground breaking research revealed that 56% of men and 34% of women who started cheating reported that their marriages were happy.
- Some research reports that extramarital sex can increase sexual activity within the marriage. The hydraulic pump theory that there is only that much sexual energy available and it is spent outside the marriage with nothing left for the spouse, has been debunked by several researchers.
- Some cheating is better kept secret. Not all cheating must be disclosed. There are situations where disclosure can result in domestic violence or even murder or trigger extreme emotional response by the psychologically vulnerable un-involved partner.
RESPOND TO CHEATING WITH CARE
My all-time favorite myth about cheating is the one about how it necessarily destroys a relationship. I think this is like the saying "she died from old age."
In our age of information, we can do better than this.
Look more deeply and there are always more complex causes. But it takes courage--and support from others--to accept complexity when our brain is hijacked into toddler-mode. In distress, our nervous system reverts to the most binary, black and white processing, leaving our higher intelligence and problem solving ability in shattered pieces.
If cheating is in your marriage, there is hope. But untreated shock and trauma are usually the "nail the coffin" that puts any relationship in a tailspin. Blame and shame can easily overwhelm a couple affected by cheating. It can snuff out hope of learning about what the affair means and how to transform its destructive power into a robust and trustworthy partnership. Then the question remains: Are all relationships worth saving?
Peggy Vaughn, an internationally renown expert on affairs, has emphasized that many therapists reinforce the idea of personal failure and personal blame. She asserts that:
|"Self-help strategies alone seldom bring full recovery from this experience, either as a couple or individually. Recovery depends on getting beyond our strictly personal view of affairs and gaining an understanding of them within a broader framework."|
The point is clear. Respond to cheating with care and courage. Separate myths from facts and get help to get perspective about your next steps.
Has your relationship been scarred by cheating? How did you overcome or succumb to your misconceptions about infidelity?